Rosemary Azuka Ojukwu, a participant in our Somo Sisters Oral Histories Project, is without a doubt a beacon for our community. In this article, we will introduce you to her and her story.
The Somo Sisters Oral Histories Project was made possible by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. We at WODIN are so thankful to have been enabled to deliver this project.
Last year, Rosemary signed up to be a Somo Sister, which was no easy undertaking. The Somo Sisters, who are all Black migrant women, were recorded recounting their life stories and the cultural observations they made when journeying from their home country to settle in Liverpool. By agreeing to be Somo Sisters, these women designated themselves leaders of the next generation, as their stories would be archived in audio form in the Liverpool Central Library, for their children, their grandchildren, and so on, to learn from. Those stories were also written down in the Somo Sisters Tapestry book. But for Rosemary, her place as a community leader was already cemented long ago.
Who is Rosemary Azuka Ojukwu?
Growing up, Rosemary’s mother taught her a lesson that she has held with her throughout her life, and passed on to her own children: “Always concentrate on living your life and never look at others around you. Be your authentic self.” Through a tumultuous youth, a move from Africa to Europe, the birth of three children, and a winding path through various professional and educational institutions, Rosemary has found those words to be a powerful motivator.
Rosemary is an Igbo from Nigeria. She is from the town of Onitsha in Anambra, one of Nigeria’s diverse and varied 37 states.
In her community, arranged marriage was, and to some extent still is, common, and so at age 12, her future marriage was agreed upon between her parents and her husband-to-be’s parents. But her father bucked tradition by insisting that the marriage shouldn’t go forward until Rosemary had completed her secondary education.
Tragedy struck when Civil War broke out in Nigeria on July 6th, 1967. The Nigerian Biafran War, which lasted 3 years, placed Igbos in danger of ethnic cleansing. On top of that, Rosemary’s mother gave birth during this time and became very ill afterwards. With her father away working and barred from sending money or supplies due to the war, Rosemary became the breadwinner and caretaker for her ill mother, her newborn sibling, and her 9-year-old brother. She had no choice but to be enterprising and resilient through these challenging times; she spent hours upon grueling hours walking, buying supplies, cooking, and selling goods to make money.
It wasn’t until after the war ended that Rosemary finished her education in Nigeria and then traveled to the UK aboard a ship, to join her husband, who was living and working there. It was a rocky start for her time in England: she arrived in a shockingly cold winter, gave birth to her first child very soon after, and then was told she had malaria. Luckily, she recovered quickly, and life in the UK began in earnest.
Since settling in Liverpool, Rosemary’s resume of professional and personal triumphs has grown immensely. She studied for various qualifications and eventually began working part-time as a college lecturer in Liverpool. Later, she worked many other jobs, including as an Education Welfare Officer. While working full-time, she kept studying and completed her Social Work Qualification. And she did all this while raising three children!
We’re inspired by Rosemary’s consistent, unwavering commitment to those around her and to her community back home in Nigeria. Over the years, she has worked with organisations to support the wellbeing of people in her hometown, such as in 2009, when she helped to send them 47 hospital beds. Or when she was part of an initiative to send 45 computers and 10 printers to the schools and library.
Here in Liverpool, for the past two decades and more, she has cooked Nigerian and Igbo dishes every month for her community members who miss a taste of home. There are few people we know who are so generous and caring.
Hear more from Rosemary…
Rosemary’s full story is now archived in audio form in the Liverpool Central Library. We encourage you to visit and listen to all the fascinating things she has to say about her life journey.
Alternatively, you can read her story in her own words in the Somo Sisters Tapestry book, which is available on Amazon at this link.
Listen to clips from Rosemary’s story
A rocky start in Liverpool
Marks & Spencers job interview